Teachers in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia have walked out of classrooms in search of better pay and working conditions for them and their students, but in most cases they're not legally allowed to do so because of state laws preventing public employee strikes.

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Note: Data as of 2014; Data: Center for Economic and Policy Research; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The big picture: Teachers could face punishment from the state and potentially lose their jobs over strikes, but it's unlikely they will.

Employees are not required to join unions in right-to-work states, which means they don't have to pay union fees. It also means that there is no officially recognized collective bargaining unit for those employees.

Most states have laws that either limit public employee's ability to strike or abolish their right to strike completely.

You really just can’t have a strong union movement in a right to work state.
— Angela Cornell, Labor Law director at Cornell University

Yes, but: If teachers face consequences, they can't be too harsh as there are too many teachers to be fired and relations may remain sour if teachers are let go, Cornell told Axios.

  • More than 50,000 teachers were striking in Arizona last week. Another 10,000 were striking in Colorado.
  • 36,000 were striking in Oklahoma in April, according to reports.
  • Teachers across 26 counties in Kentucky took part in the sick-out in March.

The backdrop: Legislators have tried to block teachers from striking before through bills, but two have already failed this year — one in Oregon and another last week in Colorado.

Teachers aren't afraid of any bills coming down from state capitals. With mid-term elections coming up in November, they believe they hold the power.

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